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USS Sunfish (SS-281)
Sunfish (SS-281) is shown in the Mare Island Channel in 1945.
Builder: Mare Island Naval Shipyard[1]
Laid down: 25 September 1941[1]
Launched: 2 May 1942[1]
Commissioned: 15 July 1942[1]
Decommissioned: 26 December 1945[1]
Struck: 1 May 1960[1]
Fate: Sold for scrap, 15 December 1960[1]
General characteristics
Class & type: Gato-class diesel-electric submarine[2]
Displacement: 1,525 long tons (1,549 t) surfaced[2]
2,424 long tons (2,463 t) submerged[2]
Length: 311 ft 9 in (95.02 m)[2]
Beam: 27 ft 3 in (8.31 m)[2]
Draft: 17 ft 0 in (5.18 m) maximum[2]
  • 4 × Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8-⅛ 9-cylinder opposed piston diesel engines driving electrical generators[3][4]
  • 2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries[5]
  • 4 × high-speed General Electric electric motors with reduction gears[3]
  • two propellers[3]
  • 5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced[3]
  • 2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged[3]
Speed: 21 knots (39 km/h) surfaced[6]
9 knots (17 km/h) submerged[6]
Range: 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)[6]
Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged[6]
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 300 ft (90 m)[6]
Complement: 6 officers, 54 enlisted[6]

USS Sunfish (SS-281), a Gato-class submarine, was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the ocean sunfish, Mola Mola, a plectognath marine fish, having a deep body truncated behind, and high dorsal and anal fins.

The first Sunfish (SS-281) was laid down on 25 September 1941 by the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, Calif.; launched on 2 May 1942; sponsored by Mrs. J. W. Fowler; and commissioned on 15 July 1942, Comdr. R. W. Peterson in command.

Sunfish held her shakedown in the San Diego Bay area and returned to San Francisco for post-shakedown availability. On 26 October, she stood out to sea en route to the Pacific war zone.

First and second war patrols, November 1942 – April 1943

She arrived at Pearl Harbor, T.H., on 1 November, and departed on her first war patrol on 23 November. Her assigned patrol area was off the coasts of Honshū and Hokkaidō, Japan. The submarine laid a minefield at the entrance to Iseno Imi on the night of 16 December – 17 December. On 18 December, she fired a spread of torpedoes at a transport Kyowa Maru and damaged her.[7] The patrol ended, on 14 January 1943, upon her return to Midway Island.

Sunfish began her second patrol on 4 February which took her into the East China Sea. She attacked a ship on the night of 4 March, but the first spread missed the target. Three stern shots gave her the satisfaction of seeing flames shoot up from the target. Two days later, a transport was fired at with a four-torpedo spread; and three explosions were heard. When the submarine raised her periscope, destroyer screws passed over the conning tower. Close depth charges loosened bolts and temporarily extinguished the lights, but no serious damage was suffered. On the night of 13 March, Sunfish launched three torpedoes at a cargo ship in the approaches to Toro Shima. They ran true and the 3,262-ton Kosei Maru went under. The submarine returned to Pearl Harbor on 3 April.

Third and fourth war patrols, May – September 1943

Her third patrol was made, from 4 May to 24 June, in the shipping lanes near Truk Atoll. No enemy shipping was found, so Sunfish reconnoitered Anguar Island on 23 May and shelled a refinery on Fais Island five days later.

From 28 July to 25 September, Sunfish sought targets in waters off Formosa. In two attacks on 13 August, she left a tanker down by the stern and witnessed a second ship explode, sending flames 200 feet (60 m) high. This signified the end of the converted gunboat Edo Maru. In the early morning hours of 4 September, Sunfish dodged between lighted sampans to attack a 10-ship convoy. The Kozon Maru went down after a terrific secondary explosion.

Fifth and sixth war patrols, October 1943 – March 1944

Sunfish refitted at Pearl Harbor and sailed on 16 October for an area northeast of Formosa. No worthy targets were found, and she returned to Pearl Harbor on 14 December 1943.

On 14 January 1944, Sunfish got underway to prowl the shipping lanes between the Caroline and Mariana Islands. She made a photographic reconnaissance of Kusaie and another atoll in the Carolines between 21 January and 30 January. On 23 February, the submarine made four determined attacks on a convoy and sank Kunishima Maru and Shinyubari Maru for a total of 9,437 tons of enemy shipping. When she returned to Pearl Harbor on 7 March, she was routed onward to San Francisco for an overhaul.

Seventh and eighth war patrols, June – September 1944

When the overhaul was completed in early June, Sunfish returned to Pearl Harbor and was ordered to begin a patrol on 22 June in the Kuril Islands area. She sank the passenger-cargo ship Shanmai Maru on the night of 5 July. The next day the submarine destroyed a fleet of 14 sampans and trawlers with her deck guns. A Soviet merchant ship, the Ob was sunk by Sunfish on 6 July.[8] The 6,284-ton cargo ship Taihei Maru was torpedoed and sunk on the morning of 9 July. Sunfish steamed to Midway for a refit period from 1 August to 19 August.

Sunfish began her eighth war patrol on 20 August when she departed Midway for the Yellow Sea. On 10 September she intercepted a convoy coming out of Tsushima Strait and sank Chihaya Maru and damaged several other targets. On the night of 13 September, another convoy was sighted. Etashima Maru was sunk and Sunfish claimed damage to other targets, including one ship left with her decks awash. The patrol ended at Pearl Harbor on 27 September.

Ninth war patrol, October – December 1944

Sunfish returned to the Yellow Sea, on 23 October, as part of a “wolf pack” that included Peto (SS-265) and Spadefish (SS-411). On 17 November the Sunfish sighted a convoy of eight ships led by the 21,000-ton escort carrier Jinyo. The carrier quickly passed out of range, and word was flashed to the other two members of the pack. Sunfish attacked the remaining ships of the convoy and sank two, Edogawa Maru, and Seisho Maru. Spadefish caught Jinyo with four torpedoes and sent her under. The running battle continued, and Peto sank Aisakasan Maru and Chinkai Maru, while Spadefish added Submarine Chaser No. 156 to the score. On 29 November, Spadefish sank Daiboshi Maru and the next day, Sunfish sank the transport Dairen Maru. The patrol terminated at Majuro, Marshall Islands, on 19 December 1944 after the coordinated attacks had sunk 59,000 tons of Japanese shipping on a single patrol.

Tenth and eleventh war patrols, January – April 1945

Sunfish stood out of Majuro on 15 January 1945 to patrol in the East China and Yellow Seas. However, she had to terminate the patrol on 20 February when collision with an unsighted ice floe bent both periscopes. The ship entered Apra Harbor, Guam, on 27 February, for refit and repairs.

Sunfish began her 11th, and last, war patrol on 31 March 1945 off Honshū and Hokkaidō. She operated in the approaches to Ominato in April. On the 9th a ship was damaged but managed to speed away and enter a protected harbor. Five days later, Sunfish launched three torpedoes at a merchantman; but all missed. The submarine carried out a daylight attack on 16 April which resulted in the sinking of Manryu Maru, a transport, and the frigate Coast Defense Vessel No. 73. Her last torpedoes were expended three days later in night-radar attacks, sinking Kaiko Maru and Taisei Maru. Sunfish returned to Pearl Harbor on 28 April and departed for the United States two days later.

Sunfish was in the Mare Island Naval Shipyard from 7 May to 31 July for an overhaul and returned to Pearl Harbor on 9 August. She was preparing for another patrol when hostilities with Japan ceased. The submarine stood out of Pearl Harbor on 29 August en route to the west coast. She arrived at Mare Island, on 5 September, for inactivation and was decommissioned there on 26 December 1945. Sunfish remained out of commission, Serving as a classroom for Naval Reserve units until she was struck from the Navy List on 1 May 1960.

Sunfish received nine battle stars for World War II.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Friedman, Norman (1995). U.S. Submarines Through 1945: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute. pp. 285–304. ISBN 1-55750-263-3. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 271–273. ISBN 0-313-26202-0. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 270–280. ISBN 978-0-313-26202-9. 
  4. U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 261–263
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305–311
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305-311
  7. Cressman, Robert (2000). "Chapter IV: 1942". The official chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-149-3. OCLC 41977179. Retrieved 2007-12-18. 
  8. Axis History Forum

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

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